"I will be out of the office travelling and attending events and seminars until 4 January 2016. I will only have intermittent access to email.” I received this remarkable auto-reply on 4 December from a senior marketing executive in a large bank.
Unless you are an academic, why would you need to spend an entire month attending seminars? And who still uses “intermittent access to email” as an excuse? Even the remote fishing village in Spain where I spend much of the year has perfect wi-fi, and I cannot think of a better time to answer emails than while travelling. I once received a meaningful reply from a well-known chief executive just because I got lucky and caught him queueing for his flight with nothing else to do.
The slacking season is upon us. Mass exodus from my street in London will start in earnest this weekend, and I will probably not see people, cars or lights in the windows until the second week of January. Meetings are already hard to schedule, and everything is moving at an increasingly slow pace.
Extra-long holidays, particularly at Christmas, are a post-Blackberry phenomenon. When I started working in the City in 1997, no one took more than two weeks’ leave at a time, as we did not want to miss out on the action or come back to the office to thousands of faxes and phone messages.
Now that we are fully connected, the idea is that we can take long holidays but be ready to jump in if the office needs us. And if we do take three or four weeks off, the probability of being interrupted by a client crisis, a junior seeking advice, or a boss giving instructions is very high. Or else, we simply yield to curiosity and start checking work emails anyway. Is it not better to go away for just a week or two and truly switch off?
Extra-long holidays can also blur the distinction between holiday and work, and those of us who stay behind in December are often confused as to whether we are allowed to contact our colleagues or not. Those of us who stay behind also start finding work slightly embarrassing, as if admitting that we don’t know how to have fun. So we begin the day late to compensate for a party the night before, and finish it early to accommodate the one coming up.
Festive buzz is great, but writing off the entire month is not. In my home country, Russia, the official winter public holidays last until the second week of January. The place shuts down. No wonder it has problems. But I always thought that the UK work ethic was different, diligent and conscientious.
And often it is. My doctor will keep his private practice open throughout Christmas, and will be back in the operating theatre in the NHS on 1 January. The supermarket assistant I am friendly with at my local Tesco will work three jobs for the rest of the month to pay for his flight to Burma.
My marketing friend and the rest of us who can afford to turn on the auto-reply and be off to “events and seminars” for a month could really learn from this.